Letter: Britain has failed to support democracy in Nigeria

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article about Nigeria underlined the major crisis facing that country today. Indeed, the present crisis has been only too predictable since the Babangida regime, under pressure from a tiny coterie of senior army officers, intervened to abort the presidential ballot on 12 June 1993, thereby denying Chief Moshood Abiola's well-substantiated claim to have been the victor of that contest.

The lesson of the poll was that electors in all regions of the country - and not only the South- west - were opposed to any continuation of military rule. There were also reliable reports that a clear majority of the soldiers, voting in barracks, had also indicated their preference for Abiola.

In these circumstances, all sides would seem to have an obvious interest in a negotiated compromise which would enable the military to withdraw from government in favour of Abiola, but with suitable guarantees as to the army's future professional role. For his part, Abiola has repeatedly indicated his support for a peaceful, negotiated transition and for the continuation of Nigeria as a unitary state.

Many (probably most) military officers likewise favour a compromise solution, hence the continuing, often intense, disputes in the high command, culminating in the dismissal of top commanders seeking common ground with their civilian counterparts. Unfortunately, more moderate opinions are now denounced by the regime, while 'liberals' co-opted by the regime last November to improve its image find themselves ignored and isolated. Abiola himself is on trial for treason.

Any lasting solution must come from inside Nigeria. But with the country facing economic collapse and political chaos, there is need for a more vocal and determined stance on the part of the British and other European governments in favour of a democratic outcome in Africa's most populous and potentially prosperous country.

Yours faithfully,


Senior Lecturer in Politics

and International Studies

University of Warwick


29 August